On September 22nd Jazz Choreography Enterprises hosted an open rehearsal featuring choreographer Spencer Pond. Audience members were able to watch Pond rehearse his piece “Good Judys” and explain some of his thought process as a choreographer.
Pond will be performing this piece on October 26th at the sold out JCE Jazz Dance Project performance. We asked him about the open rehearsal as well as some of his personal experiences as a jazz dancer and choreographer.
You recently performed a new piece at an open rehearsal for Jazz Choreography Enterprises and gave the audience a glimpse of what happens during the rehearsal process. Had you ever done anything like that before? What did you think of the experience?
Believe it or not, we had never done anything like that before! I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more into the process I get. Getting to show how we interact with one another in a rehearsal setting, and how I personally create a piece, gave me a chance to combine my newfound love of process with my first love of performance. It was a blast too because I got to create the ending in front of everyone. Normally I don’t even like to create completely new phrases in front of my dancers (I usually do the phrase work ahead of time), so the pressure of doing it for an audience was thrilling.
We watched you teach the dancers a new ending to “Good Judys” at the open rehearsal. How much are you likely to change the piece from the open rehearsal to the performance?
The piece is going to stay pretty much the same. Once the piece has been created, we run it as much as possible as a company so that we can deepen the movement in our bodies (especially the partnering). As we rehearse and it becomes more ingrained, I’ll make small changes to make the piece richer and cleaner, but that’s about it. Those who got to see us at the open rehearsal can expect to recognize the framework, but with a deeper core.
You are the founder of The American Jazz Company. What inspired you to start your own jazz dance company? What do you hope to accomplish with the company?
The famous drag queen RuPaul once tweeted, “Sometimes you have to wait for opportunities, but MOST times you have to create them for yourself.” I remember reading that and thinking to myself, “YEAH! You’re so right!” If I wanted more opportunities to dance, I needed to create them.
I have many aspirations for the company, most of which are too grandiose at this point in time, but definitely drive me. Those grandiosities include having a space where Jazz Dance, in all forms, can be supported through education, a company of dancers to create upon, resources to present and fund new works while preserving classics as well.
In the meantime, I only have the resources to focus on myself and a small crop of dancers. So currently my goal is to make connections with others in the field and push the dance form in my own works by tweaking gender expectations and enriching my choreography with history. My goal is, when it comes time to realize those more grandiose dreams, to be as ready as possible.
What do you think separates jazz from other dance genres? What drew you to it?
That is a really in depth question… For those reading this that want to really dive into that, start by reading! Check out Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots & Branches, and also the biographies of Frankie Manning and Norma Miller.
One of the biggest differences [between jazz and other dance genres] that I’ve been appreciating recently is that when you take a jazz class and you’re doing a combo, everyone claps when your group is done. When you go out swing dancing to live music, you can hear people laughing and snapping along to the music. Everyone is collectively putting their energy together to create a community.
Personally, at a young age I was thrown into a theatrical style of Jazz Dancing. Musical Theatre was a great opportunity for a young gay kid to be among people who supported you, and celebrated you. Once I was in, I was hooked by the chance to grow and work hard, by the music, and by the community.
What is your favorite aspect of performing as a dancer?
Hands down, my favorite aspect of performing is getting to entertain the audience. I have a conversation a lot with myself about whether I consider myself a dancer or an entertainer (not that they are mutually exclusive) and digging in deep to what those words really mean. The conversation with myself always ends with me giving up, chalking it up to semantics. Regardless, I love hearing the audience reacting and enjoying what we are doing.
What is your favorite aspect of choreographing dance?
I just love being in a room with those I care about for a couple of hours a day, getting to move our bodies, work hard, sweat, and have a blast. Those hours are certainly some of the best in my week, and I hope in theirs too. Choreographing a dance is an excuse to do that more often.
Have you always had an interest in choreography, or were your dance aspirations primarily about being a performer when you were starting out? Also, what made you interested in becoming a choreographer?
I one thousand percent started out primarily wanting to be a performer. It might seem crazy, but I don’t really consider myself a choreographer most of the time. My friends are always telling me that that is simply not true, but I just don’t feel like one. Like I said before, I love to choreograph when I’m feeling creative, and I love to give myself and others the chance to dance more. If I go any deeper than that, this will turn into a therapy session, and the readers don’t need that!
Do you enjoy performing in your own pieces, or would you rather just choreograph your dances?
I LOVE performing my own pieces! I have had an urge recently to choreograph something I’m not dancing in and experience that. I’ve only done it once before, and the whole time I kept wanting to get up and dance it. If I were to do that now, I think I would be able to change my mindset in a way that would make the piece even better. When I want to dance it, I’m really focusing on my own strengths and weaknesses… but with the new mindset I would be better able to focus on the strengths of others to enhance the work.
What influences your work as a choreographer? What inspires you?
First and foremost, I am inspired by music. A good song with energy and a story (literal or abstract) will make me see still images in my head that I can turn into dances. I’m influenced by the swing dancers I see on the social dance floor; by Cyd Charisse, Gwen Verdon, and the other stars of musical comedy; funny, strong women like Mae West, and Sophie Tucker; drag artists with their ability to blur gender while creating art and entertainment; punk rock; pop art and cubism; and Ella Fitzgerald. There are a lot of things, and I try to be pretty referential in the pieces I create in honor of the many entertainers who came before me.
Spencer Pond is a freelance dancer based in New York City, and founder of The American Jazz Company, a new concert dance company dedicated to preserving and expanding the art of the American dance form. He has had the pleasure of performing for audiences everywhere from beer gardens in Queens to the Minskoff Theatre in choreography by James Kinney, Sue Samuels, and Christopher Jackson to name a few. Originally from Hartford, CT, Spencer trained in classical ballet under Samantha Dunster and Jazz under the tutelage of Darlene Zoller. Follow all of the shenanigans on Instagram: @theamericanjazzcompany